Canadiens Mailbag: Gurianov’s Usage, Potential UFAs, Injury Woes
Welcome back to another edition of the Canadiens Mailbag!
Today we cover a plethora of topics, including the best usage for Denis Gurianov, what to expect from Emil Heineman, the lack of transparency from the Canadiens on injuries, unrestricted free agents the Canadiens may pursue, and more.
Let’s jump right into it.
The Anthony Richard Dossier
What will Habs do with Anthony Richard? His speed is worth a contract if we can move a few pieces to open up a roster spot.
— Cliveww (@Cliveww3) March 20, 2023
It’s rather difficult to judge a player’s underlying numbers on a team like the Canadiens.
It is the equivalent of judging a horse’s speed during a tornado. Sure, it might look like it’s struggling, but it was also just hit by Helen Hunt’s stunt double, who got lost while filming extra scenes for the movie Twister.
In this case, we must remove Helen Hunt’s stunt double from the equation to get a better idea of Richard’s real value. And to do that, we must delve into relative statistics, since they set a much more reasonable baseline for a player playing on a terrible team.
When Richard is on the ice, he tends to do two things: improve the Canadiens’ ability to generate shots and scoring chances, while also improving their overall defensive play, which has resulted in a relative expected goals for (Rel. xGF%) of 3.88, which is quite encouraging.
Only Rafael Harvey-Pinard (6.83 rel. xGF%), Jordan Harris (5.88 rel. xGF%), Jonathan Kovacevic (rel. xGF% 5.22), and Kirby Dach (rel. xGF% 4.2) have enjoyed better results.
Combine his relatively healthy strong underlying numbers with his impressive scoring rate, his penchant for skating at full speed and driving the net with reckless abandon, and you have the makings of a player that has shown he can make a positive impact at the NHL level.
I would not hesitate to offer him an NHL contract.
What do you think the top line looks like next year with a healthy roster and if Hughes re-signs Guri?
— Melissa Leigh (@MochiMayhem89) March 20, 2023
While Denis Gurianov’s goal-scoring rate is rather encouraging, especially since four of his five goals have come at 5v5, I’m not convinced he’s ready for a full season of top-line usage.
At least not yet.
And that’s fine, because the Canadiens lack players with shooting talent, not to mention players who produce an elevated volume of shots, which means Gurianov would serve the team well by playing on a second line, perhaps alongside someone like Kirby Dach, who has shown he can create time and space for his teammates in transition, which is exactly what Guraninov needs to excel.
I’d even dare use another power forward on the line, which shows you how much I trust Dach’s overall game, particularly his defensive acumen.
How about this for an attempt at assembling a top-six?
Rafael Harvey-Pinard – Nick Suzuki – Cole Caufield
Denis Gurianov – Kirby Dach – Josh Anderson.
Can you see the Habs dipping into the UFA pool this summer?
— Hockey Night In Montreal 🏒🌃 (@HNIMtl) March 20, 2023
I don’t foresee the Canadiens making a big splash on the UFA market, but I do think they want to add more shooting talent to the lineup, as they did with Gurianov.
A player like Alex DeBrincat or Max Pacioretty would fit the bill, though the former would certainly be more expensive to sign than the latter.
I know things ended poorly with Pacioretty in Montreal, but that was a different era with different teammates. If Pacioretty is willing to sign a reasonable deal, I’d look into bringing him back into the mix.
With a clean bill of health, of course.
What expectations do you have on Emil Heineman this season?
— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) March 20, 2023
Usually, I’d message someone called Patrik Bexell for more information regarding European prospects, but I suppose I’ll have to do without this time around.
Simply put, I’m not expecting much for Heineman in Laval, but it’s not due to a lack of potential or any sense that he’s a poor hockey player.
Heineman has had a rather hectic year, which started with his fantastic showing at the development camp. As Patrik knows all too well, it took Heineman a significant amount of time to find his rhythm in the SHL once he returned.
There’s only so much information a player can process before it starts to become overwhelming, and I think we may have hit that point with Heineman this year.
With that in mind, he still has speed to burn and high-end shooting talent, so I expect him to produce a decent amount of offence while hopefully learning how to play a more reliable game in the defensive zone.
If he hits over a half-point per game in his end-of-year audition, I’ll be surprised.
When is somebody in mainstream media actually going to call the NHL on how horrible the officiating has become, league wide. Everybody from players to media just say the odd thing about it but nobody is willing to actually say, your officials suck. Do something!
— Todd Smart (@todd_smartie) March 20, 2023
Truth be told, I missed a game for the first time in well over a decade. I was deep in the woods hunting and ice fishing, a necessary event that allowed me to forget about the hustle and bustle of Montreal for a little while. I also decided to hop on a train to see my godson for the first time in over a year, and I’ll be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t hesitate to miss the next 10 seasons of Habs hockey just to get a chance to see him again soon.
And that is why I am currently writing this mailbag from an outdoor train station near the megapolis known as Smith’s Falls, rather than in Montreal.
But even without watching the game on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is probably what led to your tweet, I have more than enough evidence to work with to conclude that refereeing has been a total mess this season.
The issue, of course, is consistency.
And I have very few solutions to offer.
Perhaps the NHL could stop rotating crews to ensure the same referees take care of a group of teams, rather than ensuring they cover a multitude of markets to ensure no bias.
I understand bias can come into play, but let’s be honest, it’s already a factor.
By using the same crews on the same teams, at the very least, players would have a better understanding of their habits and tendencies.
It’s an incredibly fast game, and being a referee is genuinely a difficult job, but there’s no denying the lack of consistency is ruining the on-ice product at the moment, and it must be addressed.
On the flip side, neither the NHL nor the referee’s association shares my opinion, which means we’re not due for any significant changes soon.
Habs communications are the same now as they were before Chantal, notably on the injury front. They were supposed to be more transparent, they're not, it's the same old omerta. Obviously, the vp com doesn't have the last word. Who does?
— Alex 🏒🍁 (@teppo51) March 20, 2023
Kent Hughes, France Margeret Belanger, and Jeff Gorton have the last word, though I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that they’re necessarily the ones who have veiled the recent injury crisis in secrecy because frankly, I have no idea anymore.
Without delving too much into my history with the team, let’s put it this way: hockey teams are weirdly secretive. It gets to a point where it puts its employees in difficult situations and forces them to take it on the chin while trying to please both sides. Some people are in the know, and others, who definitely should be, are not.
It can lead to a chaotic environment.
I do not, for a moment, think either Chantal or Charles are trying to be secretive, or trying to mislead the media. They’re simply stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to health issues.
Their ultimate duty is to the team. but they also have to act as a conduit for the public.
I will vouch for both of them and say I’m 100 percent certain they’re doing as well as they can considering the circumstances. They’re also very good people, which I know doesn’t offer much solace to fans, but keep in mind, they’re constantly dealing with jerks like me. It’s a tiring job.
As for the issues at hand, don’t forget, health is a touchy subject for more reasons than one. Not only is it a constantly changing situation, but it’s also a private situation, to a certain extent.
Being part of a professional sports team removes some of that privacy, but health matters are delicate to discuss, nonetheless.
With that in mind, I’d suggest the Canadiens have absolutely no choice but to review their medical process, which includes training, recuperation, diets, and everything else involved in preparing an athlete to be at their best.
They’ll also have to advise the public about their findings, and the solutions they may be putting into place.
If not, they’ll lose the trust of their fans, and given the team is in the first year of a proper rebuild, things would turn sour in a hurry. Fans will not want to spend their hard-earned money on a team who cannot guarantee a modicum of stability in the lineup, especially if said team is consistently at the bottom of the NHL standings.
Can Lane Hutson succeed as a first pair defenseman in the NHL?
— Adam Atlas 🇺🇸🇮🇱 (@AdamAtlas8) March 20, 2023
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: hell yes.
Legitimate answer: There are some things Hutson will have to work on to become a top-pairing defenceman in the NHL. His gap control and defensive positioning could be improved. As can his decision-making when he drives the puck deep into the offensive zone.
Sometimes, Hutson tries to do too much.
But those are very easy things to fix, and given Hutson has a ridiculous skillset and a penchant for learning quickly on the job, I’m not overly worried about any pending problems.
One more year at Boston University will allow him to hone his craft, and though I don’t expect him to immediately become a top-pairing defenceman upon his arrival in the NHL, I don’t expect it to take much more than a few years, either.
of the prospects not currently on the Habs or IR, who do you think has the best chance of jumping to the big club next year and sticking?
— Derek Ford 🫐 (@derekpford) March 20, 2023
Sean Farrell, Sean Farrell, Sean Farrell.
Though, I wouldn’t say he’s guaranteed an NHL job next season. I expect him to spend some time in Laval, and most likely make his way to the Canadiens once an opportunity arises.
I know you asked specifically for a player that would stick all season, but I just don’t see many prospects making the jump next year, especially since there’s a logjam on defence, and the rest of the Canadiens’ top prospects aren’t quite ready to make the jump.
If anything, I’d look to Juraj Slafkovsky as the prospect that will stick all year. I know he’s on IR, and he’s already made his NHL debut, but I consider next season as a do-over for Slafkovsky. The caveat is that the Canadiens will have to stop messing with his usage for Slafkovsky to enjoy a successful NHL season.
Given recent developments associated with NHL Pride Nights, what do you expect the Habs to do when the club hosts its version next month?
Usually, Montreal goes the extra mile… and it’s a class act.
— J (@JMcinthe613) March 20, 2023
I’d be incredibly disappointed if they decided to take a cowardly approach, and truthfully, I’d be very surprised.
There are still some very good people working for the Canadiens, people who understand the importance of empathy, as well as making marginalized communities feel welcome in a sport that isn’t very welcoming.
Who do you feel won the Battle of Jutland? Germany because they sank more ships, or Britain because the German High Seas Fleet never left port again?
— Jim (@hockeyinottawa) March 20, 2023
He who controls the shipping lanes controls the war.
A pyrrhic victory for Germany, epitomized.
All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick.
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Hutson i love but i dont agree its as easy as you portrayed it.
In BOS he walked into one of the top and historically best Defensive Teams in the NCAA.
MTL will not afford him such luxuries.
Im not saying he wont be a top pair guy .
Im say the “short answer” is or should be ‘Not without the perfect fit as a D Partner think Gorges to Markov or Subban.’
Hutsons great but he has a serious issue over skating the play and giving up odd man rushes a la Subban ever year of his career. As much as the offense may be appealing its only worth it with a Gorges or Ekholm covering him unless you have a Markov type willing to step back and play a secondary defensive role after a lifetime of an Offensive Role.
I think Jake Livingstone is an interesting piece for this very reason.
He’s someone who’s a good 200ft player we can train for this role by skating him with Beaudin down in Laval .(Beaudin has similar issues with causing odd man rushes and needing a defensive stabilizer)
Weber had Chiarot he elevated past his projections based on this dynamic.
Petry had Edmundson and Jo Benn over the years for this same reason.
Unlike Hutson both them can play defensively but still needed support at the NHL Level cause its the NHL
No Patches please. We don’t his selfish attitude.
Welcome back from a well earned break . I always appreciate your hard work and professionalism in interacting with you on your articles . Even when disagreeing on points , you show that you’re able to accept dissenting opinions . That shows a level of maturity , just as your words on your Godson have.
Much obliged. Thank you for your very kind words. It’s genuinely appreciated.
Your take on Slafovsky re: “stop messing with his usage” is a direct hit to the nail – 100 per cent correct. When you look at the way the roster was constructed during his 39 games this season, only Michael Pezzetta played fewer minutes. Really? Really! Marty hasn’t made many ‘rookie’ mistakes as a head coach, but how he handled Slafkovsky was certainly one of them.